A lake on the roof of the worldPerched at an elevation of about 4,000m in the midst of the High Pamir mountains of Tajikistan, Lake Karakul is even higher than South America’s fabled Lake Titicaca. The immense body of water – some 380 sq km in area and up to 230m deep – was formed by a meteorite that struck the Earth some 25 million years ago, and sits inside an impact crater. Stunningly beautiful, Karakul is surrounded by snowy mountains and high desert moonscape, and can be reached via the Pamir Highway.
An epic adventure
Christened Lake Victoria by British cartographers, and later changed to ‘Kara Kul’ or ‘Black Lake’ by the Soviets, the lake actually changes colour throughout the day, from various shades of turquoise and emerald to deep cobalt blue. It is a top attraction for intrepid travellers making their way across Central Asia; the nearest towns are Murghab in Tajikistan or Osh across the border in Kyrgyzstan.
A spectacular, yet lifeless lake
Ringed by salt deposits, the lake has no outflow and is one of the most saline in Asia. In fact, its salt content is so dense that it is devoid of marine life other than the stone loach, a freshwater fish that can live on sandy-bottom lakes. However, the marshy wetlands and islands found in the lake do attract a vast array of migratory birds such as Himalayan vultures and Tibetan sandgrouse. Additionally, Karakul is so salty, it’s almost impossible to navigate a boat on it without capsizing due to the vessel riding so far out of the water.
The ‘Dead Sea’ of Central Asia
Karakul is almost a Central Asian version of the Middle East’s hyper-saline Dead Sea, although that hasn’t stopped visitors from trying to sail here. The lake is now home to the aptly named annual Roof of the World Regatta, which brings enthusiasts from around the world for a quirky festival each summer that includes kitesurfing, wake boarding and inflatable rafting.